Spring and a waning pandemic mean it’s time to lighten up the libations
Ah, springtime on the Third Coast. Is there anything better than Texas sun, sand and surf to raise the spirits and get the juices flowing?
Actually, there is.
This is the time of year imbibers start searching cocktail menus and recipes for drinks that capture the season. It’s a time to put away many of winter’s sips and start looking for something that refreshes more than soothes, brightens more than comforts and tingles more than warms.
The spirits being raised tend to be more tequila, vodka, gin and rum, and those flowing juices have traditionally been fresh from the harvest of limes, cranberries, pineapples, oranges and grapefruit.
Traditionalists know many classic drinks by their juices. Take vodka and add orange juice, and one has a Screwdriver. Toss in a jigger of peach schnapps, it becomes even more seasonal as a Sex On The Beach. When one marries vodka with cranberry, one is going to love an old Cape Cod. Top that with grapefruit juice and one feels a Sea Breeze.
Of course, this particular spring might be unique in that it possibly begins the end of a tragic pandemic and a dismal year of sacrifices. If that indeed comes to pass, maybe this is the year for spring cocktails to get juiced up a bit more.
Fortunately, almost everything a cocktail mixer can imagine in that department is available right in the neighborhood, and bartenders across the country have been creating and posting recipes to bring it all home.
About a decade ago, health advocates set off a craze of juicing. Almost anything that grew on a tree, bush, vine or root could be blended into liquid form and slurped down, bringing all the vitamins, minerals and other good things along, too.
It didn’t take long for people who juiced most of the day for health to decide there was no reason to stop at cocktail time. Just take one’s favorite vitamin-laden juice and add one’s favorite liquor. Tossed were all the sugary sodas and other chemical-filled mixes. Voila! The “juicetail” was born.
As a sad side note, so was the “kaletini.”
Today, the old standard juices can share the fridge with juices made with everything from mango to papaya, cactus leaves to beets and combinations of them all.
All of these come in cans and bottles, but for the best juice cocktail, the fresher the better. Any mixologist worth her pour insists on using fresh juice and generally has a juicer nearby. It’s similar to comparing a fish just pulled from the surf to a long frozen one at the back of the freezer.
Of course, how fresh is another question. For anyone already into juicing, it’s a matter of getting the ingredients and going after it. For those who don’t want a big production in making a long-anticipated drink, however, the market is loaded with fresh, healthy and locally produced juices.
One source for fresh juices is a company based in Houston called Just Made, founded by Houstonians Walter and Norka Nimocks. The two lived and traveled in South America for many years before starting Just Made, and they created bonds with farmers and growers across that continent and in the Caribbean.
“All our juices are made through a cold-press process,” Walter Nimocks said. “This retains the flavor and color that you would lose using heat. That’s very important.”
Just Made has nearly a dozen juices on the market in southeast Texas, including Tangy Mango, Cactus Madness, Beets & Turmeric, Papaya Ginger, Ginger Greens and, new, Carrot Passion Fruit. They are kept refrigerated and have a much shorter shelf life than those bottled juices on the soda aisle.
All come with great and various health benefits, but, of course, making a cocktail with alcohol kind of nixes a lot of those. One of the pluses in using fresh juice, however, is there’s no added sugar, so drinks aren’t overly sweet and what sugar there is, is natural.
Nimocks admitted there were no cries of blasphemy in the office when people began making cocktails with Just Made juices.
“We even had a blog group called Jiggers & Shakers out of Austin start making drinks using Just Made,” he said. “And we have our own as well.”
The company has a number of recipes on its website.
There really are few limits to juice cocktails, whether the juices are bought fresh or made at home.
It’s a timid start, but take any basic margarita rocks recipe with triple sec and tequila and switch things up using blood orange juice instead of lime juice.
Tequila is a natural match with mango juice, of course, but it also found a margarita home in a shaken concoction of beet juice, orange juice and lime juice, a drink with a nice pink hue.
Vodka is another spring and summer natural. Just Made suggests it goes well with its Passion Dragon juice made with passion fruit.
For a bolder step, go where the cactus grows.
Just Made suggests using its Cactus Madness plus orange and pineapple juice mixed with tequila. The cactus juice, made from cactus leaves, gives it body. One can also take or make juice from cactus leaves and make a simple syrup. It can substitute in any drink calling for simple syrup.
Juice from the cactus fruit, seasonally available in some stores, online and in farmers markets, can be used in any number of drinks. The Caipichura is made with a mix of mezcal, lime and prickly pear. Hearts and Minds can be won by mixing the cactus fruit juice with rhum agricole, lemon, amaro and sparkling wine.
And don’t forget the blueberries. Vodka or gin with an equal amount of blueberry juice and a touch of honey makes a gorgeous blue martini. One also can drink to the blues, substituting blueberry juice in mojitos, Moscow Mules and punch, among others.
For anyone still wanting a little brown in their spring, the bourbon and scotch bottles don’t have to sit on the shelf gathering pollen dust.
Mango juice, such as Just Made’s Spicey Mango, made with pineapple, pear and lime juices, plus chili peppers, goes well with flavored bourbon or rum, such as Fireball, the cinnamon whiskey.
A player full of surprises in all this is beet juice.
Surprisingly, the earthy, slightly sweet flavor of beet juice does wonders when mixed with the smoky flavor of scotch or the smoother sweetness of bourbon. Similarly, when used with rum, the rich flavor of the cane sugar is enhanced. Beet juices made with both beets and ginger or other herbs take the cocktails to another level. The same juices, when mixed with gin instead, bring out the herb flavors in the gin.
So as the world slowly moves toward a post-pandemic time, let the spirits rise and the juices flow. While these cocktails might not in reality be a toast for your health, they can certainly be one to it.
This cocktail recipe is from a collaboration between Just Made juices and an Austin blog site, Jiggers & Shakers (@jiggersandshakers). The original recipe called for the non-alcoholic Seedlip Garden 108 Zero Proof gin. Any favorite full-proof gin may be substituted.
The Spa Day
3 slices peeled cucumber, muddled
1 ounce Just Made Ginger Greens
1.5 ounces gin
½ ounce honey ginger syrup (available in stores or can be made at home)
½ ounce fresh lime juice
1⁄8 ounce Whole Foods Ginger Shot
Dip the rim of a coupe glass in lime juice then dip in smoked sea salt. Set aside. Muddle the cucumber slices in a shaker, then add remaining ingredients with ice. Shake, then strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with a cucumber wheel.
This syrup may be used as a sweetener in tea, coffee or other beverages.
Honey Ginger Syrup
Yields: About 1½ cups
¾ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cups water
6 tablespoons honey
Place ginger, water and honey in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 30-45 minutes until syrup is reduced and thickened.
Remove from heat and allow to cool before straining the ginger from the syrup. Once cool, place in a glass container and keep refrigerated.